Harnett County school leaders vote to go ahead with mask-optional policy

COVID-19 and schools

LILLINGTON, N.C. (WNCN) — The Harnett County school board is moving forward with optional masks in schools and is sticking with its recent 7-day quarantine policy.

Both protocols go against the advice of the Harnett County Health Director.

The district assistant superintendent said they moved from a 10-day to a 7-day quarantine policy about two weeks ago. That is the minimum quarantine allowed by the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services as outlined in its toolkit for schools.

Harnett County Public Health Director John Rouse Jr. advised against the switch in a letter to the superintendent and at Monday night’s board meeting.

“To me, I would feel more comfortable if these numbers started going down,” Rouse said. “Our positivity rate last week was 9.8 percent, it had been as high as 14.8 percent three weeks ago, so we started making progress.”

According to the district, 430 students and seven staffers are in quarantine.

“Am I concerned about quarantining, yes, I do feel that quarantines could go up with optional masking because they have been high even with masks being mandatory,” said Harnett County Superintendent Dr. Aaron Fleming.

Fleming said students coming back from the 7-day quarantine will need to wear a mask in school until 14 days passes since their initial COVID exposure, per NCDHHS policy.

According to the DHHS’s school toolkit, in order to return from quarantine after seven days, a student has to have no symptoms and must have a negative antigen or PCR test taken no earlier than day five of quarantine.

The board voted 4-1 for optional masking. School leaders initially voted for optional masking three weeks ago, but the policy has been scheduled to take effect Tuesday.

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